Native Child and Family Services of Toronto

Toronto, Ontario

Native Child and Family Services Toronto headquarters reconnects urban Indigenous peoples with the natural world and establishes a bold urban presence for a community comprised of many distinctive groups, each with their own identities and customs.

 

Consolidating its social and culture-based agencies and services within a single downtown office building, Native Child and Family Services Toronto sought our help establishing a functional space that would also boldly convey an Indigenous identity.

Our solution was to utilize art, natural materials and plantings from the Great Lakes region to enliven the project with a recognizable cultural character while also softening its institutional nature. The design incorporates an unusual palette of local wood finishes such as yellow birch heartwood, eastern white cedar, Eramosa limestone, river rock and red slate, embracing reject pieces with stains, knots, and striations to highlight the honest beauty of the material. Large-scale graphics line the interior walls and floors, carefully employing culturally broad imagery that is both dignified and contemporary.

A green living wall rises from behind the reception desk, connecting all four floors to the rooftop with a vertical landscape. On the rooftop, we established a ceremonial grounds and teaching garden planted with native agricultural species such as sweet grass, sage, tobacco, corn, beans, and squash.

The offices were designed with Indigenous customs and sensitivities in mind. For example, in the child welfare area, meeting rooms that would conventionally have two-way mirrors and cameras are instead programmed in the style of living rooms, with diaphanous curtains that give privacy while also permitting casual observation.

Other design highlights include a contemporary iteration of a longhouse on the ground floor mezzanine and a healing lodge and fire circle on the roof. These spaces are used both formally and informally for public assemblies and ceremonies, drumming and circle sessions as well as for counseling, meetings and playtime.

I’ve heard our new facility referred to as ‘Aboriginal City Hall,’ which is as appropriate a term as I can think of. The main floor of the building is increasingly the place to meet, to kindle and rekindle relationships, and of course to receive services. It’s amazing the sense of pride that is being so boldly displayed, with its images and metaphors. I believe that the building will over time just get better in its role as a authentic Native experience in an otherwise non Native environment. This speaks of survival and this might be its greatest legacy.

 

– Kenn Richard, Executive Director, Native Child and Family Services

Awards

2013 Toronto Urban Design Awards – Award of Merit
2012 Green Toronto Awards: Finalist
2011 Design Exchange DX Award: ID Commercial – Silver Award
2010 Interior Design Magazine’s Best of the Year Award – Institutional
2010 Design Exchange DX Award – Honourable Mention: Landscape/Roof Garden (with Scott Torrance Landscape Architect)
2010 Design Exchange DX Award – Honourable Mention for Signage (with Adams & Associates)
2009 Ontario WoodWORKS! Institutional Wood Design <$10M Award for the Longhouse at NCFST’s Centre for Native Child & Family Well Being

Media

CBC Radio Podcast – (May 2018) Native Child and the Full Moon
Azure – (October 2010) Natural Strength: Levitt Goodman’s latest project reveals in the power of First Nations culture
Greenroofs.com – (December 2017) Project of the Week: Native Child and Family Services
Spacing – (March 2011) Native Child and Family Services
ArchDaily – (March 2011) Native Child and Family Services of Toronto
Frame – (April 2011) Meeting Room Toronto
Globe and Mail – (May 2014) Doors Open Toronto: 10 things you need to see this weekend